How healthy fats can help you lose weight
Everything we know about fat is being challenged by the latest science. And it can change the way you eat.
Like short skirts, fatties have been in and out of fashion for decades. A 1918 food guide for children insisted that fat was the most important nutrient of all. According to him, ham should always be fried with bread or potatoes, so that no precious fat remains in the pan.
Delicious, yes. Dangerous? Maybe. During the 1950s and 60s, American researcher Ancel Keys became one of the first scientists to study dietary patterns around the world. He noted that the Japanese diet was generally lower in fat, especially saturated fat, and the Japanese were long-lived and had low rates of heart problems. He also realized that in Finland, farmers spread their cheese with butter and many of them had heart disease. Keys declared cholesterol to be the main cause of heart disease – and saturated fat in food was the main reason for high cholesterol.
To lower rates of heart disease, he suggested, we should eat much less fat overall—getting about 30 percent of our calories from fat—and switch to what he called a Mediterranean diet.
But by the 1980s, a "fat is bad" mantra had taken hold. Traditional fats were not replaced by olive oil, but by lab-made fats, sugar and refined carbohydrates. Full fat milk was out; Ultra-processed alternatives such as low-fat margarine and fruit yogurt – and even fat-free cakes and ice creams – made their way onto supermarket shelves.
But instead of getting thinner, people started getting fatter. Had a terrible mistake been made?
Fat is vital
Fat does not deserve its bad reputation. In fact, it is essential in any healthy balanced diet. "Eating low-fat used to be the recommendation," says nutritionist Priya Tew. “We need some fat in our diets to help us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are also a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make on its own.
And when we cut fat, we tend to eat more starches, sugar, and even less fake healthy fats. So if you like a little butter on your toast, that's fine, but don't overdo it.
Why low-fat options aren't always the healthiest
Low-fat foods may contain more sugar and additives than higher-fat foods. In addition, eating less fat can make us hungrier. "Combining fat with carbohydrates slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels," says nutritionist Kim Pearson. “Fluctuations trigger hunger, cravings and fat storage. Focusing more on dietary fat and less on starchy carbohydrates can help stabilize blood glucose levels.”
"The primary role of carbohydrates is to provide energy, so while your diet is focused on them, your body won't be interested in turning to stored fat for energy."
In fact, many studies show that eating full-fat milk instead of skim milk and low-fat cheese is associated with a lower risk of obesity.
Your guide to healthy fats
Improves brain and heart health
Good for your brain and your heart. Salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3s
Corn oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil all contain unsaturated fats
Millennials' favorite breakfast food consists mostly of unsaturated (specifically, polyunsaturated) fats.
All are healthy – but high in calories
Eat in moderation
A little butter is fine. Use sparingly
Tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter)
These are high in saturated fats, so use them only sparingly, as they are not as healthy as monounsaturated fats can be.
Full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt
It is low in saturated but heart-healthy fat
Low fat milk
These products are often full of sugar and eating less fat can make us hungrier